Monday, August 14, 2017

Learning from Service-Learning (a humbling experience for the teacher)

One of the tasks in this year’s project in Rwanda was quite challenging.  We had to install a set of 12 solar panels onto the roof of a house more than 10 feet high.  Each set measured roughly 8 feet by 4 feet, weighting 24 kilograms.  We had to setup 4 such charging stations.  This was probably the most challenging, risky and critical task of the whole project this year.  Everyone had to work together correctly, efficiently, and safely.  

We went through a lot of planning and training in Hong Kong prior to going to Rwanda. On the first morning on site, we worked fairly quickly.  At one point, everyone was busy except one of the students, G (not in the photo), who seemed to be wondering what to do.  So I asked him to cut some metal wires and pull them through the holes at each of the 4 corners of he set of solar panels, so that they can be used to secure the panels once the set was on the roof.  I showed him a big pool of metal wires.  He grabbed one end and started pulling.  I watched in horror as the wire got tangled up!  I shouted to stop him, then told him he had to gently ease the metal wire from the pool.   Subsequently, it took him quite some time to figure out the length of the wire needed, how to measure the length and twist the wire for more strength.  I knew I had to be patient with him, but could not hide my impatience.  Then I got upset with myself of being impatient.  (Follow up: At the second station on a following day, G was able to do that properly.)

In the evening, the team sat down to review and reflect on the work for the day.  I remembered that there was an incident earlier when some of the students did something that upset some of the teaching staff and were then scolded.  We told the students that they should reflect on their behaviour, and have the courage to admit their mistakes.  Then I thought of myself: what about me?  Shouldn’t I have the awareness that I was wrong to be angry with G, and then have the courage to admit I was wrong.  At that point I told the group exactly that.  It was embarrassing for me to admit that I was wrong and apologise to a student.  But I felt I had to be honest to myself and to God, and I should do this "in public" to set an example.  

This is particularly relevant since Service-Learning is more about character than cognitive skills.  It is difficult to teach students something that we cannot, or will not, practice ourselves.  It is not just the students who have something to learn from Service-Learning, The same is true for us teachers.  It should not be surprising.  But I suspect we, as teachers, do not do that often enough. 

No comments: